Local education authorities (LEAs) used to be monopoly providers of publicly funded non-higher education and related services. At the heart of the 1944 Education Act was the three-way partnership between central government, which was responsible for national policy and strategy and for monitoring the LEAs; the LEAs which were charged with the responsibility of providing the schools, securing the provision of further education and employing the teachers and support staff; and the institutions themselves. The role assigned to the LEAs was reinforced by the requirement to maintain the church schools so that, with the exception of the capital costs of the voluntary sector, the LEAs had a monopoly in the provision of educational facilities and employed all those engaged at local level in the education service except staff in the voluntary aided schools. Fifty years later LEAs find themselves fighting for survival in the market place, and no-one but a supreme optimist would forecast a significant role for them in the future. How and why has this happened and does the market place offer them any hope? Those who run monopolies tend to develop a mind-set to match, even, or perhaps especially, when the monopoly has been established by law. It was perhaps inevitable that a number of LEAs developed over the years a degree of inflexibility, not to say arrogance, which was largely unnoticed by themselves but plainly visible to others, notably the consumers of their services. The permissive 1960s have become synonymous in the eyes of the New Right with ‘trendiness’ in teaching content and methodology, but the decade also saw the birth of the consumer movement which for consumers in general found expression in the establishment of the Consumers’ Association and the publication of Which? magazine, and in the education context led to the foundation of the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education and the Advisory Centre for Education. Perhaps as a result of a better educated generation of parents, the consumers of

education became more discerning and critical, the public more demanding, and, as a consequence, the politicians began to take more interest in the subject than ever before. LEAs, on the whole, acted defensively to these developments. They, after all, were the democratically elected bodies charged with the duty of providing and staffing the schools and having responsibility for what went on in them. They were guided by professional officers and expert advisers and took pride in the way they did things, and most had a genuine interest and belief in the quality of the services they provided. So they reacted in the same way that any public body or group of professionals would have done thirty years ago when challenged by laymen or ‘amateurs’, and although it is easy with hindsight to see how education was provider-led rather than consumer-led these attitudes were common at the time and by no means confined to the education service.